Wednesday, September 9, 2009

There must be some misunderstanding, there must be some kind of mistake...

First of all, thank you SO much to everyone who commented on the last blog post. We need all the help we can get and are very excited to be planning our next adventure. Some great ideas and thoughts. I've contacted a travel agent (having learned from our Jordan experience!) and we are well on our way to having an itinerary. You're wonderful, thank you!

Now, back to the blog and the Dubai everyday...

Part of our goal for coming here was to expand our horizons. It seems to be working. I feel that one area in particular for me has seen great personal growth since living in the Middle East; my command of the English language. Now, I spoke perfectly well in the USA. Too fast, for sure, and with my American accent which I have no intention of trying to shed, but certainly in passable fashion.

Once I got here I realised that there was a LOT of English I didn't know. Bits and pieces, phrases that I had only heard in passing on a BBC programme (I'll have to spell it that way) or TV shows. It also quickly became apparent that a goodly amount of my American English was utterly unfamiliar to my UK counterparts here, and those make up the majority of my acquaintances and friends, though running, of course. The first time I said "doofus" I sent the good lady I was speaking with into paroxyms of laughter. Indeed, she made me say it over and over again until she'd laughed herself sick.

It has been a long road and not without peril; once I start asking questions about word usage turnabout is fair play and I end up having to explain some Americanisms. These folks watch movies, people. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would have to explain to a friend's British husband (sensitive viewer alert) what a "douchebag" is and why it is an insult.

Not exactly a phrase I use, myself...

I've worked up to comfortably using the word "brilliant!" meaning cool, or awesome. I always loved that one from Harry Potter but figured I'd sound like a prat (ooh, there's another one) if I used it back in the states. Also "bloody" (darned) but I haven't worked up to "git" (doofus) yet. Here are some others that I hadn't heard before:

right shattered: really tired.

trainers: running shoes

rubbish: lousy, not good (a garbage can is a rubbish bin)

all right there?: how are you? (I thought for the longest time that people were asking if I would survive a run, but actually it's just a "hello" sort of thing.)

pissed: this doesn't connotate angry, it means drunk. You have to add "off" to the end to mean angry.

ticketty-boo: going well with no problems.

leg it: run!

faff: waste time.

pudding: any kind of dessert

off color: this means looking sick, rather than being PG-13. Also, it will make your hairdresser laugh if you ask about bangs. They are called a fringe. Bangs has to do with one's sex life, and that's all we need to say about that. (Speaking of off color!)

I can't say pardon me anymore, since that's what Brits say when they pass gas. (Since we're already gone off color.) I beg pardon instead when I need something repeated.

We use the word potty in our house, but the Brits use it to mean crazy.

chuffed to bits (I love this one): delighted

That's just a sample of UK speak; there are a zillion little words and phrases. Then, in good Henry Higgins fashion, there are the accents which some days I still have a hard time sorting out. The worst time I've had so far was talking to two guys from Mike's work. One was from Louisiana, the other an Aussie, and in a loud party setting. I could understand them separately well enough, but together had me dizzy from switching verbal gears.

Being here has also heightened my awareness of how I speak, and of communication in general. While I have made no effort to lose my accent, I do soften it and emphasise different parts, and try to use the correct words for things. Nothing pleases me more than when I'm runnning with a Brit and I use or understand a word they didn't expect me to know and they comment on it.

Much more often I'm racking my mental resources to try and figure out what the heck the word they just said means, could possibly mean, and whether I heard it correctly over the sounds of us running and the huffing and puffing going on.

This is the most diverse place I can imagine...there are people from everywhere and to some extent everybody works at being understood. We, at least, are lucky in that all the signs are in English, and pretty much everyone speaks some English. The people who come here from their homes, knowing no one, and not speaking English or Arabic, are very, very courageous. That they make themselves understood, get a job, get around, navigate the red tape, is impressive.

Over time I have gotten accustomed (well, mostly...) to not only the way my UK aquaintances speak, UK encompassing the Brit, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh (the latter insist upon having their own category. They're like that and it causes trouble) but also speaking with the Asian folks from India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. The language and the cultural differences make for a mosaic of possible misunderstandings.

Fortunately, some things I have figured out for myself, the easy way. In Asian speak "too much," a very common phrase, is not necessarily a bad thing. It just means "a lot." The head bobble thing is still being dissected by many, but usually it means "yes". Culturally, there is little chance of an Indian saying "no" to a Westerner. Isn't done. Any comment along the lines of anything besides a 100% guaranteed "yes" is a polite way of saying "it's not going to happen."

We think it has something to do with not upsetting the "Master" in the caste system and getting along with everyone, though I'm hardly going to take a stick to somebody for saying no! Old habits die hard. I guess. It can be very frustrating to not know if something is actually going to be done or if you're merely being placated or they're trying to let you down gently. I have to remind myself that it's not seen as lying...just different manners. We undoubtedly come off as blunt and impatient and rude and uncivilised.

I jump on Bethy all the time for dumbing down her speech when she talks to Rani. It makes me crazy. Or potty, as it were, though that sounds wrong, doesn't it?

As you can tell, it's a lot more fun to learn the Britishisms, even though it's often at my own expense and to the hilarity of others.

What can you do but keep trying?


*Paula* said...

Ha! That reminds me of when I moved over here from Ireland. You think you are speaking English and people have no idea what you are saying! I had to modify how I spoke over here which contributed to the "loss" of my accent. I can find it again when I am talking to Irish people though ;)

dorothy said...

so....does anything my dad said to you in the past make any better sence now? Great post - loved the last one also but didn't have time to coment. Hugs- travel a little for me!

Abid said...

Nice post! Didn't know British English was sooo different from ours.

Tanya said...

Great post Ive been meaning to write one along the same lines inspired by a set of kiwi fridge magnets bought on our trip home. I still use a lot of kiwi slang-apparently- even though we've been off shore for 6 years now. Mac our 15 year old uses all sorts of phrases/words absorbed from friends at school and code switches seemlessly as many third culture kids do.
The yes means no thing Asians do is because 'saving face' is always better than upsetting someone which you may do if you say no despite the fact that often the anger/frustration from being stuffed around is worse than a straight up no in the first place. I guess they count on the fact that showing anger in public is also frowned upon. I have become much better at the daily yes/no dance and try as much as possible to not use questions requiring a binary answer.

Anonymous said...

A freind of mine who worked in South Africa said when he was there the designation "now" was sort of indefinite time-wise so you had to ask "do you mean 'now' or 'now now'" (now now = really right this minute). Also they call traffic lights "robots" and 3.5" floppy disks "stiffies". Much hilarity in our IT dept when a SA visiting staff asked if his computer "came with a stiffy"...And then how do you explain??